Is this the year you will finally take that first solo trip? I was probably like you 12 years ago obsessing on how I was more intimidated than excited about traveling alone for the first time. In 2006 I left my corporate career to take a career break and travel around the world for a year primarily solo. I had never undertaken anything like this before and wasn’t an experienced traveler.
The fear of traveling alone for the first time poured out of me in the form of tears. As my sister left me in Capetown and I watched her taxi disappear in the distance, I cried. After that I took a nap in my hostel, got up, dusted off, and began my solo journey.
That year traveling around the world solo turned into 12 years and 70+ countries. I’ve gone more places solo than with travel partners. I walked across Spain in the Camino de Santiago solo, volunteered in Nepal and India, drove solo through Ireland and Germany, traveled to Mongolia, Patagonia, Alaska, Russia, New Zealand, Jordan, Lebanon, and Italy solo to name a few. I think I’m an experienced solo traveler now!
I originally traveled solo mainly because if I weren’t willing to go on my own, then I never would have gone anywhere. I refused to live a life of longing and waiting for others to do what I wanted. Now I prefer to travel solo because I get to do what I want, when I want, and don’t have to compromise – which is a nice perk in life where we always have to compromise in work, relationships, etc. It’s a true vacation to just have to worry about you.
Solo Travel Stigmas
A few years ago I wrote an article for Yahoo Travel about my solo road trip in Ireland and it received this memorable comment:
I applaud your courage, but I hate traveling by myself. I think traveling by one’s self is for losers who cannot get laid, or at least were dumped and are looking to get away. In your case, since you have been a long-term solo traveler, you are probably a long-term solo loser. (Sorry.)
I can only laugh at this comment – I mean seriously – he/she even took the time to apologize after insulting me!
However, I do know that there is a stigma with solo travel that many people worry about. And sometimes those worries can stop people from trying this wonderfully enriching form of travel. So here’s my best tips on how to move past those worries and get out there and travel alone for the first time with safety and fun in mind.
Tips for Traveling Alone for the First Time
1. Start Small
I didn’t just go out and travel alone for the first time on my year long around the world trip; I took baby steps. I took short nearby trips first, then graduated to a long weekend away in the Caribbean by myself and built up my confidence. Plan a simple getaway nearby first and see how you do and gradually go bigger!
2. Stay in Communication
One way to fight off loneliness is to make sure that you stay in touch with your friends and loved ones. It’s also a matter of safety to stay in touch with people so they know where you are. It’s really easy to do know with all of the phone apps that work over wifi these days. Do a weekly call (Skype, Facetime, Duo, Facebook Messenger) with friends/family or use What’s App to regularly text friends/family.
3. When You Are Lonely Take a Tour
If you are traveling alone and starting to feel pangs of loneliness, then simply take a tour to get out and be social. Most all major cities offer ‘pay what you want’ walking tours. In addition to having some instant interaction, you get to learn about the city you are staying in, make new travel friends, and get some recommendations for where to eat and go!
4. Register with the STEP Program (US Only)
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a program run by the State Department for international travel. It’s free, all you do is enter your info or what cities you will be traveling to and when with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In addition to helping you get safety information from the local embassy, it will also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. It’s great peace of mind for the solo traveler.
5. Keep Alcohol to a Minimum
When I’m traveling alone I cut back my alcohol consumption to 1 drink or nothing. When you travel alone, you really do need to make smart decisions and be aware of what’s happening around you. Drinking will of course impair your ability to do those things and puts you at more risk.
6. Download Maps for Offline Use
I rely heavily on my Google maps when I travel alone. They help me get around, use public transportation and feel safer when I’m in a taxi. You don’t want to be in a situation where you really need your map to get home or find something and you can’t use it because you don’t have a connection. You can easily download offline maps and have that security of a map no matter what.
Download an area to use offline
1. On your phone or tablet, open the Google Maps app .
2. Make sure you’re connected to the Internet and signed in to Google Maps.
3. Search for a place, like San Francisco.
4. At the bottom, tap the name or address of the place.
5. Click the 3 dots in the upper right of the screen.
6. Select Download offline map .
7. How To Walk Solo
Yes I I know that walking isn’t hard. However when walking solo, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first key is to be aware of your surroundings and walk with confidence.
I always like to look people in the eyes – it always makes me feel more strong and aware. Do not use headphones at night or while running – it makes you more of a target. In addition, try not to wear any flashy jewelry or show your electronics. However I always have my phone easily accessible in case I need to use it right away.
8. Travel Solo With a Group
They say one is a lonely number, but it doesn’t have to be. I think small group travel is the best way for traveling alone for the first time. You may be alone at first, but you’ll quickly bond with your small group and suddenly even though you are traveling alone you have instant companions. I have made lifelong friendships with people I’ve met while traveling solo on small group trips.
One of my favorite companies for small group tours is Intrepid Travel. They say that 50 percent of the people who sign up for their trips are solo travelers. Plus, they even have special solo only departures for some of their most popular destinations (Vietnam, Bali, and Morocco in 2019)!
9. Avoid Single Supplements
Single Supplement fees are the bane of any solo traveler. A solo can expect to pay between 125 and 200 percent more to travel alone. However, there are some companies that wave the single fee. You can see a list of solo friendly group tours that charge no single supplement at Stride Travel, a consolidator of small group travel. They have a long list of trips around the world with no single supplement fees! Or you can simply search the internet for solo travel no single supplement and you’ll find plenty of deals if you have flexible travel plans. This may mean that you need to take on a roommate for a trip. I know it seems uncomfortable to share a room with a stranger for some people; however, I have also made some incredible friendships with random roommates throughout my travels and it’s worth it to try it!
If you feel like cruising for your solo holiday, you can even find cruises that cater to the single traveler such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Silversea Cruises, and Seabourn to name a few. You can find more on single friendly cruising here.
10. In Case of Emergency
911 isn’t the universal emergency number, it differs for every country. It’s good to know the emergency number of the country you are traveling in. (this is important whether you are solo or not!) Download this app with emergency numbers for each country.
11. Always Grab Your Hotel’s Business Card
When you check into a hotel be sure to grab their business card or take a picture of it on your phone. It will help you get back to your hotel if you don’t speak the language, the taxi driver is confused, get lost, or just need help.
12. Arrival in a New Country
I think arriving in a new country on your own is one of the biggest challenges for a solo traveler. People are bombarding you, everything is new, you are on edge after a long flight and you are alone; it’s just not a good situation. Therefore I always try to schedule flights to arrive in the daytime when I’m traveling alone. Or if that’s not possible, I will secure a taxi transfer to my hotel prior to the trip so that I know I have a plan on how to get to my hotel alone, and don’t have to figure out who to trust when everything and everyone is bombarding me.
13. Act Like You Have a Lifeline Even if You Don’t
You are alone, but you don’t have to act like it. In fact you can act like you have someone in the country that you are traveling with or staying with at any time. In a cab act like you are on the phone talking/texting to someone – this way the driver will know that you have a way to communicate with people.
You may also want to consider making sure you have a real lifeline. I always travel with personal mifi devices from Telecom Square so that I do have access at any time on my phone no matter what country I’m in! More mifi rental information here.
14. Use Uber in Foreign Countries
When I started solo traveling Uber wasn’t around – hell – smart phones weren’t even around! Uber is great for the solo traveler though. It is a way to get around where the app gives you info about your driver, a real time update on the route you are taking, and it has a record of the whole trip. This is so much safer than when I used to take taxis alone. Think about it – when I was traveling by taxi no one knew who I was with, where I was going, or when. Now there is a complete record of that when you use Uber which would make any driver think twice about doing anything unscrupulous.
15. Pack a Door Stopper and Whistle
I think it’s always a good idea to pack a rubber door stopper as a solo traveler. It just provides that extra bit of security in a hotel or hostel room that you might want. You can go an extra step and get an door stop with an alarm! In addition, I always carry a whistle with me too.
16. Solo Taxi Etiquette
I suggest that you don’t put your belongings in the trunk of the taxi if you are traveling alone. It’s always better to have your stuff next to you in case you need to get out or get away in a hurry. In addition, do consider sitting in the front seat of a taxi if you are solo. If the driver does try to do something – you have a chance to fight back in the front seat…as opposed to the back seat.
17. Dining Alone When Traveling Solo
Dining alone is honestly a state of mind first and foremost. Trust me when I say that when you are on your own in a restaurant or bar – you are the most interesting person there. And most people in relationships most likely envy you. However if you are uncomfortable eating alone, try these solutions great for the solo traveler.
Try communal dining and enjoy food with a group. Eatwith.com is a great way to dine with a group but still have a really unique, local experience. I’ve tried this in various places during my travels and have always met really interesting people. Some people I ended up becoming friends with and we traveled to sights together while in the destination.
Take a food tour – it’s a great way to be with people for an afternoon and have a meal at the same time! Plus – you’ll get great ideas for other places to eat during your stay.
Take a cooking class – often you meet other travelers in the class and you all sit down and eat together at the end!
Eat at the bar – Whenever I go to a restaurant on my own I always ask to sit at the bar as it’s more fun than sitting at a table by yourself. Bartenders are great to talk to and watch, plus you tend to meet other people at the bar to talk to.
18. The Best Lodging for Solo Travelers
The more money you spend – the more isolated you are. If you are traveling alone and don’t want to be isolated, then hostels are a great option. They are normally cheaper than a hotel and they are more social. Most hostels these days offer private rooms, so if you don’t want to share a room in a hostel a private room is always an option. Private rooms normally are about the same cost as a hotel, but the social benefits greatly outweigh the few extra hotel benefits you get. Most hostels have tour desks, restaurants, and so many great ways to meet other travelers. Most all of these things are also cheaper then a normal hotel. It really is perfect for the solo traveler.
If you just can stomach the idea of hostels, then another option is to stay in an Airbnb. But fight the urge to get your own apartment by yourself. Instead rent a room in someone’s apartment or home . It’s a much more social experience as you get the opportunity to interact with more people. When I rent a room at Airbnb I’ve always had great experiences and have met some super people.
19. Dress Appropriately
This definitely applies more to women solo travelers; be smart about how you dress. I always believe that dressing like the locals is the best way to fit into a country as a solo traveler. And regardless of the culture, you should try to be modest all the time. This sort of falls in the same category as drinking alcohol, it’s just a good idea to be as covered in all of the right places to simply not draw attention.
20. Let People Know Your Plans
When I travel alone I often think about the fact that no one knows what I’m doing or where I’m going in a destination generally. It can be a bit unnerving to know that you can’t really be accounted for. When you are traveling alone, it’s always good to let your friends/family know your travel plans. In addition, let the front desk of wherever you are staying know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Or you can text friends what your plans are – just so that there is some information about your whereabouts.
If you are Traveling Solo, then be prepared for this conversation.
By practicing these solo travel tips each day of your trip you’ll feel more and more confident. Solo journeys are the ultimate tests. However, in the end they are reminders that you can do whatever it is you set your mind to. Trust me, when you finish your first solo trip – you’ll feel invincible. Few things in life empower us more than blazing that solo travel trail!
Follow Sherry Ott @ottsworld